In the last 40-50 years, the world economy has transformed. It has evolved from the post-industrial, mass production economy of the early 1900s to the knowledge economy we know today, in which desk jobs are more common than service jobs. Not only has the knowledge economy changed what kind of work we do and how we do it, but it’s also changed workplace design and daily habits.
Whereas most service or production jobs keep you on your feet, knowledge economy jobs are primarily desk-bound. Engineers had a new problem to solve: how to design office furniture that promotes comfort, physical wellbeing, and productivity. The solution was ergonomics.
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics (also known as human factors) is a field of engineering that applies physiological and psychological principles to design products that enhance safety and comfort while promoting productivity. In the workplace, ergonomics focuses on human interactions with the physical objects of the typical work station: desk, chair, and computer. But ergonomics can also be applied in many other settings, such as at home, in public places, on airplanes, and anywhere that humans are interacting with objects in their environment.
Ergonomics and The Way We Work Now
As workers began spending more time at their desks and less time on their feet, it became obvious that sedentary workplace habits came with many consequences. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time leads to an array of physical ailments including carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis flare-ups, musculoskeletal disorder, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease. These physical ailments manifest as lost productivity and a drain on company resources in the form of higher health insurance premiums and more sick days.
Employers responded by taking an interest in ergonomic office design and furniture. Both employers and employees alike are increasingly invested in factors pertaining to workplace wellness, which includes seeking furniture that supports physical comfort and movement.
People are also taking this interest in wellness and ergonomics home with them. They’re looking for home furniture and design elements that promote healthy habits.
The Future of Ergonomics
Ergonomics first took off in the 1990s, but the workplace changes and habits that prompted the genesis of the movement are only increasing as our reliance on technology continues to shape the way we live. People are spending more and more time engaged in sedentary activities, like working at the computer, watching TV, using a smartphone or tablet, or even driving. Some have coined this the “sitting epidemic.”
The following work and lifestyle trends will keep interest in ergonomics high in the coming decades:
- Working From Home – Growing numbers of companies are shifting to remote work models, either allowing full-time employees the flexibility of working from home or relying on remote contractors to supplement their workforce. Combined with the growth of the gig economy, this means more people than ever will be working from home — and will be looking for ergonomic options for their home office.
- Open Plan Offices – Open plan or open layout offices have taken off in the last 10 years and show no signs of slowing down. Because employees are often not assigned to a specific desk, the office furniture in an open plan office needs to be highly flexible. Employees need to be able to easily adjust the height of a desk or chair when they sit down at a new workstation. Employers will look exclusively for ergonomic options when they shop for new office furniture.
- Focus on Wellness – Providing wellness benefits has become essential to employee retention, satisfaction, and even hiring. And the definition of wellness benefits has evolved. It’s no longer just about health insurance and time off. Employees are looking for workplace wellness initiatives like healthy snacks in the office kitchen, an on-site gym or sponsored gym memberships, and ergonomic design.
So Why Should You Care About Ergonomics?
You should care because your customers care. People looking for ergonomic options will look over a vendor who doesn’t offer height-adjustable, ergonomic-friendly products. Embracing ergonomics now will give you an edge in the market — and failing to do so will mean you will soon be left behind. Ergonomics is a growing, profitable area of the market and you would benefit from capitalizing on it.